a gourmet review of caviars & fish roe


Caviar Glossary

This is the Genus of most of the sturgeon species. eg Acipenser baerii There are two other sturgeon genus- Huso and Scaphirhynchus

Name for the largest of the Sturgeon fishes. Latin name Huso huso. Native of the Caspian and Black Sea water sheds, it is also still native to the Adriatic, but very rare. Beluga caviar has the largest egg size of any caviar, one of the reasons for its top prize. It also has a unique colour grading system- 000 guarantees a light grey colour, which is the most expensive. 00 - codes for "medium grey"

American Caviar
This is term full of potential to confuse. It can mean any of the native American sturgeon species, such as the transmontanus species now being farmed in California. Other caviar retailers use the term when they mean the caviar of the non-sturgeon paddlefish or spoonbill which produces similarly large and grey eggs. Alternative caviars such as Whitefish from the US great lakes can be sold as American caviar. It is therefore more a geographic tag than reference to any species in particular.

This is the species name for the Siberian Sturgeon which lives naive in places such as Russia's Lake Baikal. It is a relatively small and fast maturing sturgeon which is part of the reason that it has become a popular choice for farming. All of the new French farms are producing Baerii caviar.

This is the name given to the hybrid sturgeon created by crossing the large beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) with the small sweet fleshed Sterlet sturgeon (Acipenser ruthenus). This has produced a fish with admirable qualities, but could cause a problem if released into the wild.

Borax is a preservative used to preserve and flavour caviar. The full name is Sodium tetra borate, often referred to by its E number - E285. It is an illegal food additive in the US, meaning that all caviar sold in the US tends to rely on higher salt levels to ensure effective preservation.

Chinese Caviar
See Kaluga

Colour Codes
There is a continuing tradition, to visually separate the three main type of sturgeon caviar by packing them in different coloured containers. Beluga tends to be packaged in blue, sevruga in red leaving the osetra liveried in yellow. Although this is not kept to by all, most tins and jar tops sold today still adhere to this colour separation.

This is one of the three sturgeon genus. eg Huso dauricus. There are two other sturgeon genus- Acipenser and Scaphirhynchus

The name of the large sturgeon found in the Amur river, shared between China and Russia. It grows very large and produces caviar very similar to the other large sturgeon species the Beluga. Its Latin name is Huso dauricus. Sometimes this is marketed as Chinese Caviar.

Widely used Russian term meaning lightly salted. It is sometimes seen written as Malo's sol. In practice this means in the region of 3-5% salt. It is a term that is not indicative of quality, merely describing the process. If the salt content exceeds 5%, it should then be termed salted caviar. The low salt level means that even if the caviar is kept appropriately cool it has a restricted shelf life of only 2-3 months.

See Osetra

This is a term that is more a description of a type of caviar rather than being limited to the caviar of one single species. Although more often than not it tends to mean the caviar of the Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), several other sturgeon produce similar small grained nutty flavoured eggs which are also categorised and sold as osetra caviar. This is the reason why osetra caviar has a reputation for being somewhat variable in colour, flavour and size. There are a range of alternative spellings still in use such as oscietre and osscietre.

See Osetra

Pressed caviar
This is an ancient traditional technique for preserving fish eggs. The famous bottarga fish roes of the Mediterranean region being the best known. This caviar tends to be made from the roes which have been damaged during the extraction process. Due to the difficult task of separating the individual eggs from their egg sac and other tissues, this is normal practise. Unlike the mullet roe of the bottarga, sturgeon roe is extracted from the egg sac membrane, it is therefore put in a man-made muslin sac before pressed under weight. This process produces a very rich concentrated flavour as there tends to be 3-4 times more eggs per ounce in pressed caviar. It used to be dried and pressed more in the past leading to a consistency which could be sliced like cheese. Nowadays the custom appears to be a softer consistency, more resembling that of jam, which can be spread. The Russian term for pressed caviar is Payusnaya.

This process in which the caviar is heat treated by steeping tins or jars of caviar in water of 60-70 degrees Centigrade. This process whilst lengthening shelf life to a year or more, does affect the quality and flavour of the caviar. It is worth being wary of pasteurised caviar that is really fresh malossol caviar that has been pasteurised just before its sell by date, in order to save it and sell later on in its new form. Obviously fresh caviar which has been pasteurised within hours of being processed is going to be superior to that which has already spent 3 months in a tin being flown around the world.

Salted caviar
This is caviar that has more than 5% and therefore outside the limits of the Malossol method. This higher ratio of salt preservation is often found in caviars sold in the US. Seldom does it exceed 10%. The trade off for the increased shelf life is to somewhat alter the flavour of the caviar.

One of only three sturgeon genus, it has just one extant species the Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus), which is native to the waters of the Mississippi River system. This particular sturgeon produces the caviar often sold under the name Hackleback. The other two sturgeon genus are Acipenser and Huso.

This is the name reserved for the caviar produced by the sturgeon species, Acipenser stellatus. The English name for this species is the Starry Sturgeon. It is native to the river networks leading into the Caspian and Black Seas.

The species name for the Sevruga or Starry Sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus).

This is the species name for the American White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) which is native to the West coast of the US from California, north as far as Alaska. The river most famous for this fish, and where it is still caught, is the Columbia River. The huge Bonnerville Dam has constrained the migration of these huge fish, but luckily there are some natural breeding habitats just below the dam. This species is being farmed in its native states such as California, and also in European countries such as Italy.

White Sturgeon
See Transmontanus